Some of the older Forest Park football players remember Oct. 25, 2019.
On that evening, they defeated Clarkston 39-12, a memorable victory for the struggling program that stood as the Panthers’ most recent win — until last Friday.
Behind a big game from quarterback Jacari Hardaway, Forest Park defeated Morrow 36-17 last week to break a losing streak that began late in 2019 and ran through last year’s 0-10 campaign.
The victory was meaningful to the players and to Rex Robertson, in his second season of a rebuilding job as head coach of his alma mater.
“I think it’s going to mean the world to our confidence moving forward,” Robertson said of the breakthrough win. “We’re learning how to win. It means everything to us.”
Forest Park led Morrow 9-0 at halftime before the offense got going.
“Our defense was on the field a lot,” Robertson said. “They bent but didn’t break.”
An ominous start to the second half didn’t deter the Panthers from their mission.
“Last year we never even competed in the second half (of blowout losses),” Robertson said. “Morrow scored on us the first drive of the third quarter. I was concerned there. But we bounced right back with seven of our own. I was really pleased with that.”
Hardaway, a 6-foot-2 junior, and the offense quickly responded. He completed 20 of 24 passes for four touchdowns, in addition to rushing for a score, as Forest Park pulled away over the final two quarters.
“(Hardaway) had an unbelievable game,” Robertson said. “He threw for four touchdowns. He ran for one. But more importantly, he managed the game for us. He lines everybody up and makes sure we’re in the right play, things you do as a quarterback that people don’t see. He played great. He made great decisions. He stepped up in the pocket and ran the ball when he had to.”
Tailback Janerious Jackson had two of the TD catches, and played well at inside linebacker. Receivers Matt Nettles, Montrell Christian and D.J. Bradley also made contributions in the passing attack.
Robertson also credited a big night from the offensive line, including veterans John Shepherd, Drashon Thomas and Mark Bramble.
“Those guys have been around all four years,” Robertson said. “I told all those guys they deserve a win.”
Forest Park is now 1-1 on the young season after an opening loss to Riverwood, a Class AAAAAA team that has made the playoffs two of the last three years. The Panthers were scheduled to face McNair, which had COVID-19 issues and had to back out of the opener a day before the game. They filled the opening with Riverwood, a tougher foe than McNair, which is winless since 2018.
If not for the schedule change, Forest Park could easily be sitting at 2-0. But for now, the players and coaches are content with 1-1 after their previous winless stretch. They have an opportunity for back-to-back victories when they face Osborne — a 12-0 winner over Woodland-Cartersville in Game 1 — at Tara on Thursday.
“(Osborne’s) riding high on some confidence,” Robertson said. “They’re 1-0 and they won a couple of scrimmages, too. They’re coming in here riding high. It ought to be an exciting game.”